5 Things You Won't Believe Spawned Black Markets
For as long as there have been laws, there have been black markets to sell whatever those laws prohibit -- drugs, guns, whatever Han Solo was shipping on behalf of Jabba during his smuggler days. But not every law is as clear-cut as "machine guns and heroin are bad," and not every black market item is as menacing as those. In fact, you'd be utterly baffled to see what's getting traded in the shadows these days, considering it includes things like ...
Flight Attendant Uniforms (Yes, for Fetishists)
With the economy in the crapper, Japanese airlines struggled with bankruptcy, trying to rebuild their image and their finances. This of course led to some job cuts to crews and flight attendants. Unfortunately for the airlines, the female staff they had previously let go had neglected to return the uniforms, presumably adding them to their cosplay wardrobes (because we understand that's what all Japanese women do, without exception).
If the vows aren't spoken in front of a giant underage love pillow, then the marriage is null and void.
Freshly laid off and presumably bitter, the ex-employees turned to selling their possessions to make rent, and they were pleasantly surprised to discover that there is totally a market for stewardess uniforms in Japan. And we're talking to the point that a single uniform is worth thousands of dollars.
Officially, the airlines had prohibited the sale of their uniforms for fear that someone would be able to purchase one and use it to sneak their way past security and into restricted areas, which is a completely legitimate concern. However, as the pink-slipped stewardesses were to find out, it seems like that's not really what the people buying the uniforms have in mind.
"Now come back in an hour with half a flat Diet Coke and tell me my bag isn't tucked under the seat enough."
In a revelation that is equal parts disturbing and reassuring, it appears that most buyers are not budding terrorist cells looking to infiltrate airport security, but simply uniform fetishists looking to infiltrate women dressed as airline employees.
And these people are devoted to their role-playing fantasies -- just the jacket sells for hundreds of dollars, while the full New Japan Airline flight attendant uniform sells for the equivalent of more than $3,000. The uniform from a rival airline is priced at nearly twice that.
The three evolutions of stewardess -- Uniform, Uniforce, Unimaster.
Moreover, uniforms that have been worn are considered more valuable than new outfits and garner a higher price, which should come as no surprise in a nation that sold used panties in vending machines.
Self-loathing is only a twist away.
The staggering majority of Western households have at least one toilet, so it may seem strange that there could be a black market for them. But imagine this: You've just given your shiny new eco-friendly low-flow toilet its inaugural poo-slam. You stand proudly and push down on the lever, only to be filled with panic as the commode gives a halfhearted gurgle and spits all your waste back into the bowl, spilling out over the lip and forcing you to take immediate action: shout upstairs to your mom that burglars broke in and shit on the floor.
"And you don't want to know what they did to my bed sheets."
Ever since 1992, American toilets by law could use only 1.6 gallons per flush. Being used to flushing power in the range of 3.5 to 5 gallons, Americans with brand-spanking-new toilets suddenly found themselves with toilets that couldn't handle their dookies.
People found themselves having to flush several times just to hide the shame of persistent floaters and eventually got fed up with it, deciding to smuggle in high-flow toilets from Canada at the risk of hefty fines or even imprisonment, because yes, installing high-flow toilets is against the law. Plumbers found themselves braving $2,500 fines to secretly install the less eco-friendly toilets. Some homeowners would install the toilets themselves, and others modified low-flow toilets to make them more powerful.
For an in-depth look at the lives of hotshot toilet modders, try "Fast and Furiously Allergic to Corn."
Some desperate bear-shitters would even pull off a sly deception, displaying a law-abiding toilet conforming to the 1.6-gallon flush regulation for inspectors before switching it for an illegally competent model once the inspectors left, which is surprising on two fronts: one, for the ingenuity of people wanting to flush their dinosauric poo submarines with dignity, and two, for the realization that "toilet inspection" is a real, actual thing.
This isn't even addressing the sort of "fact finding" mission one has to go through in order to actually get a high-flow toilet across the border. You have to live close enough to the Canadian border to drive over and get one, or know somebody who does who would be willing to run porcelain for you. Or you could call around to commercial fixture warehouses and see if they have any old high-flow units lying around. It's quite a trail of breadcrumbs, and in each conversation you have along the way, you are implicitly telling everyone that you shit like a demon.
"Yes, hello? Do you have high-flow toilets? Perfect. Because I fire out logs the size of Howie Mandel."
Breast Milk and Sperm
If you had a list of "things not to purchase from shady sources," you would think that "bodily fluids" would be right up there alongside "health insurance" and "children." But you would be wrong. Dead wrong.
Filthily, stickily wrong.
We've written before about the difficult yet lucrative market for human sperm -- some of the males reading this paid their rent that way. But in some countries, selling your sperm means risking jail.
That's because in Canada, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act was passed in 2004, prohibiting monetary reward for sperm and egg donors, which led to marked shortages in sperm banks. The reason for that was simple: If you don't pay people for doing something, chances are people aren't going to want to do it. Even if that thing is masturbating.
"If you aren't going to pay me, I might as well go back to doing it in my neighbor's mailbox."
However, the demand for donor sperm did not decrease, which lead to under-the-table chili peeling. In Canada today, more than 90 percent of the semen used for artificial insemination is from back alley sperm deals (which is illegal) or from profit-based sperm banks in the United States (which is also illegal). Anyone caught seed smuggling in Canada is facing up to 10 years in jail and a $500,000 fine.
Not that the ladies are left out of the bodily fluid black market. They can always sell their breast milk.
Is it too much to hope that they sell it specifically to babies?
Many women, after giving birth, produce much more milk than their new baby will realistically need. So what does a responsible adult do with the extra milk? She pumps it out and sells it online, earning as much as $20,000 in a single year. In one lady's case, she made enough money off of her surplus breast milk in just three months to afford a new laptop and a wedding dress.
While it's technically legal (as in there are no laws against it as of now), the FDA is very concerned about the handling of the milk. Milk can go bad in a lot of ways, and this is a completely unregulated market conducted over the Internet. So it's unlikely that the donor was adequately screened for diseases, and the milk probably wasn't handled in a way that would make it safe for a baby's consumption. And when you can make that much money off of something the female body regularly produces without any kind of regulation, you're going to attract some disreputable people, including some women who turned up positive for child-friendly illnesses like HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B and C.
The vanilla, chocolate and banana flavors of the breast milk world.
Even if the mother is clean, the categories of breast milk are puzzling, to say the least. A browse of online milk sellers boasts milk from mothers of "fat babies," milk from moms who are willing to give free samples to prove "quality and safety" (the process used to determine these attributes is not adequately explained) and even milk from women who are willing to sell their breast milk to men, because let's be honest, they have more money than babies.
And as if the horror wasn't complete, some customers have relayed stories of having paid a truckload of money for "clean" breast milk, only to receive a nonrefrigerated bag of curdled milk in the mail.
"... so you're saying a trampoline won't make it frothier?"
Hey, speaking of which ...
Raw Milk and Cheese
If a certain food item made people sick and led to a quarter of all food-related outbreaks in North America, you'd think we'd all agree that it would probably be a good idea if we stopped consuming it, right? And if there was a way to make that food safe and disease-free, you'd think we'd be on board, right?
This was the situation with raw milk, which was regularly contaminated, possibly because of the fact that it came untreated from the pinched teats of a barnyard animal. Eventually, regulations were put in place in Canada and 11 U.S. states making the sale of raw milk illegal, requiring all milk to be pasteurized in order to stop further outbreaks and illness and cheese made from raw milk to be aged before consumption (which helps, contrary to what you're probably thinking).
But apparently the fact that pathogens, parasites and even poop can find their way into raw milk isn't terrifying enough for some people. For a select few, it didn't seem to matter that, without any pasteurization, there was no way for lovely things like E. coli and salmonella to be killed before it was consumed by people. When raw milk was banned, a bootleg market sprang up, along with a flourishing culture around the illegal goods.
"The Maytag blue curdles when the Colby crows. You have the Gorgonzola?"
We can only assume this meant Prohibition-era gangsters opening up raw-milk speakeasies, doling out half gallon bottles to the tune of secret knocks and handshakes. There are actually articles teaching you how to score raw-milk cheeses illegally, advising potential law breakers about viable stores and coaching them to drop the right hints to trigger the illicit transactions, using key phrases like "special" and "in the French style" to tip the shopkeeper off that you're looking to sling some cheese.
An activist group made up of mothers and their supporters was formed to petition for the right of people to buy E. colicious doo-doo milk and transport it across state lines. They call themselves the Raw Milk Freedom Riders, and we are in no way making that up.
"Wherever a child drinks milk without vomiting, wherever people are willing to
exchange slightly lessened allergies for E. coli, we'll be there."
But perhaps the most vocal and astonishing of the raw-milk advocates is one Michael Schmidt. In order to promote the legalization of raw milk, Schmidt has gone on a hunger strike, vowing to drink only water until he either dies or is given an audience to try and change the legislature. While we admire his courage and tenacity, we'd like to point out that, as stated above, raw milk is only illegal in 11 of the 50 U.S. states. So instead of the whole starvation thing, maybe just move?
"Is that what you would have said to the SLAVES?"
If you found a huge beehive in your garage, your first thought would be to try to figure out how to kill the bastards without just burning the whole garage down around them. It probably wouldn't occur to you that your infestation is valuable to the point that somebody might try to steal it.
"Hot damn, is that a cockroach? This, sir, is a gold mine."
But bees are in short supply right now; populations have recently been suffering due to colony collapse disorder, and no one is exactly sure what causes it. Unfortunately, this makes it a lot harder for beekeepers and farmers. Normally, beekeepers will rent their hives out to farmers whose crops need some sweet cross-pollinating bee sex, with the price of a hive depending upon the total amount of bees that the keepers have in their stable, so to speak. With bee populations dwindling, the keepers have fewer bees available and the price to rent one of their hives skyrockets.
And of course, that's where the black market comes in. Some enterprising individuals have begun sneaking into apiaries and stealing entire hives (over $300,000 worth in California alone). The thieves take the hives, dump the bees into new containers and then sell them back to the farmers.
This rarely works, because individual bees are so damn distinctive.
Hive snatching had always been a danger in the past, but because of the population decline, theft has become almost epidemic. The farmers take numerous precautions, including branding each hive with a state identification number and even installing microchips that can be tracked a la LoJack, but the thieves can get around both of these measures by switching the bees into their own containers. And it's very difficult to tattoo the name of your farm onto an individual bee.
"Shit, I can't even read this. Maybe an anchor tramp stamp would work."
We must admit, the rogue bee-trading business seems to attract some particularly adept thieves who either have nerves of steel or are completely unaware that bees can kill you, because we're not talking about a couple of guys tossing bikes into a pickup truck at one in the morning -- these people are swiping 3-foot-high wooden crates full of angry bees. An entire colony of stinging insects can reduce even the most stalwart master criminal to Macaulay Culkin in My Girl.
"Bees? No, these are ... flies. Because the body of a former child star is in here."
For items you don't need the black market for, check out 7 Items You Won't Believe Are Actually Legal. Or discover how you're already a dirty, filthy crook in 6 Laws You've Broken Without Even Realizing It.